Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

DECISION: June 4, 2018

Supreme Court avoids addressing core question in Masterpiece decision

Hollman: Religious liberty does not mean that religious beliefs provide blanket exemptions to nondiscrimination laws that protect our neighbors

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WASHINGTON – On June 4, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop, finding that actions of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated the Free Exercise Clause.

The following statement is from Holly Hollman, general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty:  

“Rather than determining whether the business owner’s refusal to provide a service violated the law, the Court decided today’s case based on the actions of the administrative body charged with enforcing the law. 

Religious liberty protects beliefs and actions related to marriage. It does not mean that religious beliefs provide blanket exemptions to nondiscrimination laws that protect our neighbors. Religious objectors, like all Americans, have the right to be treated with respect and not to have their religious beliefs denigrated. 

As we consider these difficult issues in future cases, we all will fare better when we acknowledge the legitimate interests on both sides of these disputes and approach each other with civility and respect.”

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Background:

The Baptist Joint Committee filed a friend-of-the-court-brief in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission in support of the state of Colorado, explaining how respect for religious liberty requires recognizing diverse religious beliefs and seeking to protect all citizens. The case centers on a commercial baker’s refusal to make a cake for the wedding reception of a same-sex couple, despite state law requiring nondiscrimination in businesses open to the public. The United Church of Christ, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Chicago Theological Seminary also signed the brief.

The brief states, “Public accommodations laws like Colorado’s generally promote religious liberty, by protecting individuals from discrimination on account of their religion. Such laws also promote human dignity, which is itself a religious value, by ensuring that all individuals can access the commercial marketplace on an equal basis. By advancing these compelling interests, public accommodations laws like Colorado’s protect the pluralism that is so vital to American society.” A religious liberty exemption to public accommodations laws should not be granted when the actor is operating in the commercial context and is not required to participate in a religious marriage ceremony.